`Politically correct' West fails Afghans

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The Independent Online
SIX MONTHS after the overwhelming majority of foreign aid agencies pulled out of Kabul after a confrontation with the Taliban authorities, the poor and destitute in the Afghan capital are paying the price.

Afghanistan's only children's hospital, the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, is filthy and freezing, without money for drugs or basic medical equipment such as X-ray film. In the nursery ward, mothers and sick children huddle round a stove giving off toxic fumes in the only heated room in the ward. Last year the Duchess of York's charity Children in Crisis arrived here with a fanfare, bringing vital aid. But three months later it departed.

The confrontation with Afghanistan's Taliban authorities had been brewing ever since the Islamic fundamentalist army captured the city in September 1996. The Taliban's exclusion of women from education and jobs was repugnant to the West. The women's issue brought intense pressure on governments and aid bodies to withdraw. But the crunch last July was over demands that the charities move to remote new premises. Since then the international community's position has hardened.

The European Union cut all funding and Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) warned that any charity that returns to Afghanistan will automatically forfeit all British government assistance. Britain now says it is reconsidering the position.